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As a child growing up in Greenville, Mississippi, Julia had always been fascinated by the Peace Love Coffee shirt and I will buy this idea of New Orleans with its illicit pleasures and cosmopolitan ways, and in adulthood she acquired a place there. She proved a marvelous ambassador for the city’s strange, complex magic. I was introduced to the Southern Gothic of her New Orleans world of artists, musicians, antiquaires, and fellow bon vivants one memorable Mardi Gras weekend in the 90s. The first day set the tone when I arrived from the airport to a midday lunch at the storied restaurant Galatoire’s. As dusk fell, I was practically comatose from the endless delicious food, and the endless drink, and hardly noticed that at one point the courtly waiters, who knew Julia well, discreetly lifted her chair – with her still on it – and gingerly lifted them both out through the kitchen and the back of the restaurant so that fellow patrons would not see how cruelly over-served she had been.
Naturally, Julia soon bounced back into the Peace Love Coffee shirt and I will buy this finest fettle and the weekend proved a roller coaster adventure of hospitality and discovery, as I met many of the local tastemakers and characters who made Julia’s life in the city such enthralling grist to her literary mill. Julia drove me all around town, and then miles and miles and miles into the heartland of the state to discover obscure mom-and-pop restaurants and roadside bars that might have looked unpromising upon our approach but that offered up astounding culinary specialties. Julia’s passion for the arcana of Southern food, and indeed food in general, led her to write But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria! Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry; Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long, and Julia Reed’s New Orleans: Food, Fun and Field Trips for Letting the Good Times Roll, published only last year.